Martin Armstrong addresses Thai media.
He has been described as a genius, a rogue, the world’s best economist, a US government scapegoat, a financial oracle and a criminal. But who and what is the real Martin Armstrong? The basic facts in his own words are clear cut enough – born in New Jersey 63 years ago, the financier went onto become the world’s highest paid and most revered economist. He was then charged with fraud in 1999 and not convicted. Instead he was held in contempt of court and because of that, not guilty, was held for seven years in a New York federal prison in one of the longest contempt of court cases in history.
In the end, the government dropped all the original allegations if he would plead to a simple conspiracy whereas he says it was Republic National Bank/HSBC that had taken money from his accounts, and had Armstrong read a scripted plea stating that he had promised note holders that all money would be held “separate and segregated from Republic’s own accounts and would not be available to Republic for its own benefit.” Republic pled criminally guilty and received full immunity provided they returned all the money they had taken. HSBC applied and received a lifetime gag order on Armstrong to try to prevent him from revealing the truth about what had taken place.
We met with the American financier who will be arriving in Bangkok for the World Economic Conference on November 2nd and 3rd at the Grand Hyatt Erawan - to hear his story, in his words. And what an interesting story it is.
First off Martin says that the case against him that led to his incarceration is so strange and mystifying it’s almost laughable. And being the kind of affable guy that he is – his charming New Jersey accent swinging across his animated conversations – he does laugh. But with what he has been though, it takes a certain kind of person to be that way.
A self-made millionaire as teen thanks to a rare coin collection, by 21 he had his own store and also an interest in studying historical gold prices. While in his twenties, through his own research he found that, on average there had been a panic in the global economy every 8.6 years – a finding that was to be instrumental in his career. In the early seventies Martin became a trader and dealer in gold – compiling forecasts about commodities and currencies that he then sent onto clients. His success in this area led to his primary business becoming forecasting.
Using the seemingly magical number of pi, after realising that the 8.6 year cycle he’d discovered was exactly pi times one thousand, he was able to predict future significant events in the markets. These included the Nikkei peak before the crash in December 1989 and the S&P high in 1998. He called his new strategy the ‘Pi-cycle Model’ and it led to him being named the Economist of the Decade by Equity magazine as well as so respected in Japan, they knew him simply as Mr Yen. This capability also made him the highest paid advisor in the world.
Martin also became world renowned when he created the world’s first computer system that correlates the entire world economy and tracks all movements – every day of the year. He developed this mega-computer structure costing hundreds of millions of his own money – conducting 16 trillion calculations per second – as a way to get around human opinion and consequently possible error in forecasting. By 1999, after advising governments internationally including in China and Japan, Martin released a report on the number pi and its implications for his forecasting- astounding the world. Even the Thailand share market and economy has followed his model published in 1979 with the peaks and lows right on time.
In this same year the financial magnate suddenly found charges of defrauding Japanese investors, where he was working at the time, levelled at him, a very strange inquiry from the Japanese government was made that was an amazing mistake. There are some who believe this was no mistake and was retaliation for his forecast that the Liberal Democratic Party would lose political power in Japan and that the nation was in a long-Depression that would not bottom for 23 to 26 years from 1989 (2013 to 2016).
“The Japanese government sent a letter to the Federal Reserve asking to confirm I had ten billion dollars in cash at the Republic Bank. Then Republic, owned by HSBC, panics because I only had one billion with them, not ten and steals the one billion dollars. They then went to the US government and said I was in a conspiracy with their employees and they didn’t know about it. The government goes back to the Japanese government, who then apologises and says it was a mistake - it was one billion not ten.I have this in writing from the Japanese government,” Martin explains. “The ongoing debate is whether the Japanese government did it intentionally. By then, Republic/HSBC already stole the billion dollars so they had to plead guilty and pay back all the money – butI have no restitution. Then HSBC moved in court to permanently gag me from ever telling the truth to save their reputation.”
At this point the financier, who was dumbfounded by the situation, says the holes in the case against him were immediately obvious.
“The charges were that I conspired with Republic Bank’s own employees to hide the losses that they created, from the Japanese. The whole idea that I am hiding losses from them is predicated upon the idea that they were Japanese accounts. But they were my own accounts - so why would I be helping Republic Bank to hide the losses from myself?”
Martin explains that he aggressively fought the charges, hiring three law firms, but the specific and strange circumstances surrounding the trial blocked his defence.
“The Associated Press on April 27, 2000 wrote an article saying it was an extraordinary close-court proceeding because they threw out all the media – something illegal. And they ended the article with, ‘I wonder if he can get a fair trial in New York City?’”
Held In Contempt of Court
To avoid a potentially damning trial for the bank, this is where the contempt of court situation arose. And why some believe Armstrong was charged and jailed because of the length of time he was held, but this is not the case he says.
“To prevent a trial they created a contempt of court situation – which is not a crime. A judge can say, ‘I think you should do this and I’m going to put you in jail until you do it.’ The judge directed me to turn over assets and the court officer Tancred Shiavoni further demanded my computer model source be turned over to the court as well. They claimed this was in case I owed something upon conviction but in the end I didn’t owe anything – the bank did.
“And because it’s not a ‘crime’ and the judge is not ‘punishing’ you, you are not entitled to lawyers or a trial. They kept me in jail for seven years for assets that maybe I might owe, but didn’t at the end of the day. It shows the United States screams about human rights against countries like China, but it abuses the rights of individuals pretending they are imprisoning you for life without a crime.”
During court proceedings Martin says all kinds of sensational claims were made against him – from making an amazing midnight escape carrying important documents from his office chased by guards, to the fact he was told all his defence documents were destroyed in the World Trade Towers after 9/11 to prevent him from defending himself. But he believes the reason behind his public attack is simple.
“They wouldn’t have done to me what they did unless my economic model was correct. After it accurately predicted the collapse of Russia in 1998 and that was covered by the London Financial Times, they wanted my model and said it had geopolitical significance.”
Jail wasn’t an easy ride either. Housed in a federal New York City prison usually used for holding people during their trials, Martin survived a brutal attack from another inmate, endured solitary confinement and had no idea about his release date since it could be for life at the judge’s discretion.
“The crazy thing is, I’m high profile and the press was always there, but how many more people have had this happen to them that no one’s heard of? They couldn’t sweep me completely underneath the rug – but they gave it a damn good shot. Fighting back kept me going.”
Kept from his family, the economist took to an antiquated typewriter to keep writing up his financial forecasts while confined – he even hand drew his graphs to be sent out to his scores of fans worldwide. The government could not stop him from writing - all they could do is say he was not allowed to make money – so he did it for free. After seven long years, Martin finally got a reprieve.
“The only reason I was released is because we got the case to the Supreme Court and they asked the prosecutors, why is this man in prison? There were three postponements and then they finally just released me to prevent the Supreme Court from ruling and amazingly because it was decided that the presiding judge had dementia after being appointed to the court in 1971 by Richard Nixon. Unfortunately, a judge is for life and nobody can remove him even when he is too old to drive a car.”
Just as Popular as Ever
Despite the contempt of court saga, he remains hugely popular and has been working non-stop since his release.
“After everything that has happened to me, in the big crash of 2007 I get calls from the house Financial Services Committee asking for my assistance because I was not a banker and had no self-interest in explaining how the markets really collapsed. I still go down to US congress today and meet behind closed doors.
The way I’m introduced on Capitol Hill is, ‘This is the man with the economic model they are trying to suppress.’
“Because of my experience and contacts worldwide, they all still read what I write and follow the forecasts because everyone knows they are at least independent. We ended up with a 600,000 readership for my work; New York Times is only 800,000.”
Martin is now in Singapore ahead of his appearance in Bangkok, where he will headline the World Economic Forum, something he is looking forward to. But his trip also hints at much more, he says.
“The fact I’m here proves that I didn’t owe anything because if I had you cannot leave America till you pay everything. They don’t want me telling the truth about them. Nonetheless, the world has to know about the corruption that is threatening the entire world economy. Corruption is not limited to China. It is very much alive and well in New York City.”
To prove his point, Martin is now taking those who charged him through legal proceedings to prove their wrong doing and his innocence - and aims to do this in early 2013.
“It’s not over until the fat lady sings,” he says. “I’m fighting until it comes out that they never had evidence, I never did anything therefore they have to overturn everything against me and admit it was a mistake.”
So how did the father-of-two make it through his persecution and controversy – which continues till today?
‘I don’t cling to anything in life; I’ve always been that way. If you are going to worry about dying you aren’t going to experience life. That’s why the court case and government couldn’t break me. I’m not going to hide in a corner - that’s not living to me.”
Who is the Man Behind the Model?
The billionaire today lives simply, as he always has, and enjoys travelling, history, good food and great drinks. He’s disarming and improbably quick-minded – and has the talent to speak on any given financial topic for days.
But what about the man behind the model?
“I guess to describe myself I’d say... I’m fearless. I say things how they are. I’m a libertarian. I don’t see the government as a benevolent grandfather; I know they have self-interest. And I believe in human rights.
“I have to look at myself in the mirror every day. If I don’t do something that I feel is worthy then I don’t look at myself in a good light. I will always stand up and say I won’t do something wrong because it would insult my morals.”
Having achieved career highlights that people can only dream of and pioneered such unique creations as the pi-cycle model and computer system tracking the world economies, he amazingly remains self-deprecatingly humble. When quizzed for his proudest moment in his career he is silent for a long time.
“I guess my proudest moment was when Milton Freedman (famous economist and statistician) came to my lecture in Chicago and said that was the greatest speech he’d ever heard. I was shocked.”
He also completely believes in the legitimacy of his ‘Pi-cycle model,’ which can predict down to the day the peaks and troughs of the global economy.
“It operates amazingly. Even predicting the exact day of the real estate market high in the US in 2007. It can’t be a coincidence – there are too many things right down to the day. It offends some people because if there is a cycle that exists it might mean that somehow you are predetermined. That’s not the case. We all have our own cycles, collectively that pi model always works but it’s not always the same people doing the same thing at the same time.”
And when asked about Thailand’s economy specifically the financier says the South-East Asia powerhouse follows his model exactly.
“I have just published my findings on Thailand’s economy on my website and we will discuss it at Bangkok’s WEC in November. I show how the Thailand economy has followed that pi-cycle perfectly. The high of 94 – it’s all there. The Pi model shows that capital will concentrate and because it’s global it means that it is specific to the area. When US goes up, Thailand will go down – it’s all relative.”
So with everything taken into account, does he also believe he is the genius so many claim he is? For the first time in the interview he is shy.
“A psychiatrist friend of mine told me I think dynamically – not everyone thinks the same. I connect all the dots to get the big picture. Which makes me more suited to being an international advisor- but does it make me a genius? I don’t think so,” he grins.
Fittingly, Martin is also currently the subject of a documentary being shot by famous videographer Marcus Vetter entitled, The Forecaster.
“Marcus felt my story should be told. They wanted to show I’m the guy that stood up against the New York banks and all the corruption. They want to show the truth. ”